Monthly Archives: January 2013

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasuring Your Palate’ Makes Vegan Cooking Easy

virgin vegan

Reviewed by Rene A. Henry

SEATTLE, Wash., Jan. 24 – Linda Long has authored another winner which I recommend for every home kitchen and believe should be a must read for every vegan and vegetarian.

Long’s “Virgin Vegan: The Meatless Guide to Pleasuring Your Palate” (Gibbs Smith, 176 pages,  $19.99, available from Amazon.com)  has scores of simple and tested recipes for dining, snacks, sandwiches and desserts.  It is perfect for any host who might need to adjust a menu to accommodate a guest’s diet preference.

Long, who is a member of the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, includes in her new book recipes from home cooks, renowned vegan activists, and chefs of leading restaurants across the country.  She has lectured at universities on vegan nutrition and has chapters on good things to know about nutrition as well as being vegan.

She notes that a vegan diet lowers cholesterol and blood pressure; assists in managing or preventing many cancers; lessens or heals hypertension and Type 2 diabetes; and supports better weight balance.  The author also has strong views on overuse of animals and the impact on our environment.

The book lists and describes various products for vegan and vegetarian recipes.  I learned about vegan cheese, how soy milk substitutes for whole milk, vegan margarine and different types of tofu.  I was a guest at a dinner party she hosted to honor a friend on his birthday and the way tofu was prepared I thought I was eating chicken!  The entire dinner was an absolute delight.

Long gives the reader a meal plan template with numerous suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  In one chapter she has recommendations on the preparation and cooking of vegetables, greens, grains, and beans.  In the chapter about nutrition she provides information on the best sources for protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A, B-12, C, D and Omega 3s.  She also tells the reader about various oils, sweeteners and soys.

I plan to prepare some of her vegan recipes including vegetable soup; black bean chili with chipotle skillet cornbread; several sweet potato dishes; mac and cheese; chickpea halvarti cheese spread; Norwegian caraway cheese spread; sour cream; and Southern fried “chicken.”

Long graduated from Mansfield University and received her master’s degree in home economics from Penn State.  For years her career was in the fashion industry.  “I was married and living at The Concord Hotel resort in New York’s Catskills when I met comedian Dick Gregory who inspired me to change my eating habits,” says Long.   “Dick, a self-taught nutrition expert, was making sure Muhammad Ali, who was at the hotel training for a championship fight, kept his immune system up to peak performance.”

She authored and photographed the award-winning book “Great Chefs Cook Vegan” for Gibbs Smith in 2008.  Long also writes and photographs articles for vegetarian magazines and leading newspapers and is the host/producer of Vegan Hotspot, a web-based TV show that spotlights vegan restaurants in New York City.

Rene A. Henry lives in Seattle and has authored eight books and writes on a variety of subjects, many of which are posted on his website atwww.renehenry.com. During his 50 year career in public relations he represented a number of food and beverage clients.

 

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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: ‘Then Came Bronson’ Short-Lived Iconic TV Series Put Many Americans on Two Wheels

Note: This column first ran on Aug. 25, 2010. I mentioned I no longer had a motorcycle. This was remedied this past December when I purchased a 2003 Ural Tourist sidecar rig. I plan to write about my experiences with this machine in the near future.


By David M. Kinchen

If you’re of a certain age — a baby boomer or, like me, of the slightly older pre-World War II generation — a short-lived television series called “Then Came Bronson” may have put you on the road to riding a motorcycle.

I was reminded of TCB, the shorthand name of the show for a surprisingly large cohort of fans, when I picked up my September-October 2010 of Motorcycle Classics magazine and found a nice spead on the show, including sidebars on TCB fans who’ve turned 1960s vintage Harley-Davidson Sportsters into replicas of the red bike Bronson rode in the show.

The pilot appeared in the spring of 1969 and starred a relatively unknown Michael Parks as San Francisco newspaper reporter Jim Bronson, with a young (28) Martin Sheen (“Apocalypse Now,” “The West Wing”) playing his friend who committed suicide and left a note leaving his motorcycle to Bronson. Bonnie Bedelia (“Heart Like a Wheel,” “Die Hard”) was his romantic interest in several episodes.

As the story in the magazine relates, “the story behind Then Came Bronson (TCB) is as interesting as it is unlikely. The pilot aired on March 24, 1969, and was released in Europe as a feature film. The series ran for only the 1969-1970 television season and was then cancelled. Since then, it has become a cult-classic among motorcycle enthusiasts and devotees of American television.”

The Motorcycle Classics story relates that Jarvis was retained as adviser for the pilot, and the legendary Bud Ekins (1930-2007) provided the motorcycle stunts and technical accuracy. The list of guest stars included well-known actors and motorcycle racers and enthusiasts. The soundtrack included vocals by Parks, including “Long Lonesome Highway,” which along with Parks’ signature “Hang in There” tagline has become symbolic of the of the series.”

Along with “The Rockford Files,” a Friday night fixture for me, I watched the show avidly. At the time, we were living in Milwaukee and I was a reporter and editor at The Milwaukee Sentinel. I had ridden Cushman scooters in high school in the 1950s and motorcycles were a logical progression. My first bike was a small Honda, followed by a Triumph and a Bultaco street bike, eventually ending up with a nifty white 1971 BMW R50/5 bike that took me on the open roads around the Midwest. I no longer own a motorcycle — I sold my Honda Shadow last fall — but I still look back on my riding days with pleasure — and TCB may have been the catalyst.

As they say in the TV business, TCB was based on a true story, that began many years earlier with the true-life exploits of Birney Jarvis. Jarvis’ good friend, the late Denne Bart Petitclerc, a noted American journalist, screenwriter and television producer, wrote the series pilot. Robert H. Justman of Star Trek fame was executive producer and Parks played the title character. Steve McQueen, a motorcycle and car nut, was reportedly offered the part but had to decline due to his heavy feature film-making commitments.

There are at least two websites devoted to TCB:

www.jimbronson.com
www.thencamebronson.com

Motorcycle Classics: “Many TCB fans found a personal defining moment in the opening credits of each episode, as Bronson pulled up beside a weary, beaten-down commuter in a tired station wagon:
Commuter: “Taking a trip?”
Bronson: “Yeah.”
Commuter: “Where to?”
Bronson: “Oh, I don’t know. Wherever I end up, I guess.”
Commuter: “Man, I wish I was you.”
Bronson: “Really?”
Commuter: “Yeah.”
Bronson: “Well, hang in there.”

The scene shifts to Bronson leaving the big city and “Working for the Man” for The Long Lonesome Highway and Freedom.” Avid motorcyclists call cars “cages.”

The implied message was, the MC story notes: “Don’t ever become the guy in the station wagon.”

With TV shows of the past being made into feature films (“Starsky and Hutch,” “The A-Team” and “Get Smart!”) maybe it’s time for a revived “Then Came Bronson.” After all, a new version of “Hawaii 5-0” will reappear in a few weeks on the home screen. “Book ’em, Dan-O.”

Link to Motorcycle Classics story on Then Came Bronsonhttp://www.google.com/search?client=gmail&rls=gm&q=Motorcycle%20clssics

BOOK REVIEW: ‘J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2013’: Yes, You Can (Do Your Own Taxes!)

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2013': Yes, You Can (Do Your Own Taxes!)

It’s that time again…income tax time. While many taxpayers would no more do their own taxes than they would try to fix an ailing automobile, many others believe if they’re smart enough to earn their income, they’re smart enough to do an individual federal return.

 

I’m with the latter group. Consider it a challenge: You against federal bureaucrats who speak a different language. When it comes to income tax preparation books for non-accountants or tax preparers, it’s hard to beat “J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2013 for Preparing Your 2012 Tax Return” (Prepared by J.K. Lasser Institute, Published by John Wiley & Sons, 784 pages $22.95). As a civilian (an English major, even, who’s done his own taxes for decades and is not incarcerated!) this is the book I recommend, along with the one you can pick up at the post office along with the required forms.

The 2012 year-end tax season is slated to have an unparalleled number of tax law changes. With the Presidential election behind them, the White House and Congress will determine whether to move forward with implementing a deficit reduction plan that will end tax breaks for the wealthy. Available now with updates on expired and expiring tax law provisions, is America’s number one bestselling tax guide, J.K. Lasser’s “Your Income Tax 2013: For Preparing your 2012 Tax Return”.

 

This reliable reference, written by a team of tax specialists includes filing tips to help preparers plan and file their 2012 tax return in the most efficient way possible. It covers some of the most important topics associated with taxes, such as what to report as income; how preparers can save on taxes as well as what deductions they can claim. The updated guidebook includes a new chapter on business succession planning as well as:

> New mileage rates for business driving and standard rates for business travel costs
> New limits for health savings account contributions
> New limits for retirement plan contributions
> Updated information on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Taxpayers can gain direct access to supplement materials through www.jklasser.com, including links to the latest tax forms from the IRS, up-to-the-minute tax law changes, small business help, and much more. For additional information please follow us on Twitter: @JKLasser and on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/JKLasserTax and look for tax tips on www.YouTube.com/lasserjk.

While it will never impress anyone who loves the prose of Steinbeck or Hemingway, the language in this book is straightforward, and as jargon-free as possible. Here’s a sample, explaining the important subject of filing status:
The filing status you use when you file your return determines the tax rates that will apply (1.2) to your taxable income. Filing status also determines the standard deduction you may claim (13.1) if you do not itemize deductions and your ability to claim certain other deductions, credits, and exclusions.

This chapter explains the five different filing statuses: single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, and qualifying widow(er). If you are married, filing a joint return is generally advantageous, but there are exceptions discussed in 1.3. If you are unmarried and are supporting a child who lives with you, you may qualify as a head of household (1.12), which will enable you to use more favorable tax rates than those allowed for single taxpayers. If you were widowed in either 2011 or 2010 and in 2012 a dependent child lived with you, you may be able to file as a qualifying widow(er) for 2012, which allows you to use joint return rates (1.11).

Special filing situations, such as for children, nonresident aliens, and deceased individuals, are also discussed in this chapter.

Your personal or family status also determines the number of personal exemptions you may claim on your return. For 2012, each personal exemption you claim is the equivalent of a $3,800 deduction (21.1).

ABOUT J.K. LASSER INSTITUTE:

J.K. Lasser Institute has been the premier publisher of consumer tax guides since 1939, when Jacob Kay Lasser first published Your Income Tax. Since then, the guide has been published continuously for over seventy years and read by over 39,000,000 people. The J.K. Lasser Institute also publishes several personal finance books, including Small Business Taxes, Home Owner’s Tax Breaks, 1001 Deductions and Tax Breaks, Year-Round Tax Planning, and more. J.K. Lasser Institute spokespeople are regularly sought after as media tax experts. They regularly appear on such broadcast programs as CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg TV. They are also often featured in numerous periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Self Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Reader’s Digest.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Pukka: The Pup After Merle’ Yellow Lab Tells Story of How He Won Ted Kerasote’s Heart After Merle’s Passing


Reviewed By David M. Kinchen

Note: this review ran Oct. 28, 2010. I’m currently reading Kerasote’s new book, “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs” and will post my review as soon as I finish reading it.

No furry friend can ever really replace one that passes away, but Pukka, a yellow lab, is doing his best to fill the gap in Ted Kerasote’s life that emerged after the death of Merle, the subject of Kerasote’s national bestseller “Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog.”

Pukka tells his story in a first-dog narrative, “Pukka: The Pup After Merle” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 208 pages, $18.95) illustrated by 200 pages of color photos by Ted or “handed off” to another photographer so that Ted and Pukka could be in the same image.

Since the publication of “Merle’s Door”, Ted Kerasote has received thousands of e-mails asking two questions: “Have you gotten another dog?” and “Are you writing a new book?” “Pukka: The Pup After Merle” answers both, in the most heartwarming way.

“Pukka: The Pup After Merle” tells the story of how Ted found Pukka in Minnesota, recounting the early days of their bonding as they explore their home in Kelly, Wyoming, near Jackson Hole and the marvelous Grand Tetons, and the wider world.

Walks become hikes and hikes become climbs, their adventures culminating in a rugged wilderness journey that teaches both Pukka and Ted something new about the dog-human partnership. Pukka went along with Ted on his raft, a catamaran-like contraption that gave them stability when they ran the rapids. Pukka even learned to like swimming, a necessity for a retriever. But his favorite activity remains roving the wide open spaces with Ted.

“Pukka” is a love story as well as Ted’s take on raising a puppy. It does in a picture-book format — and what wonderful digital photos they are — what “Merle” did with words: show how dogs thrive when treated as peers while illustrating the many ways that any dog opens the door to our hearts.

About the Author

Ted Kerasote is the author of many books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. His essays and photographs have appeared in Audubon, Geo, Outside, Science, the New York Times, and more than sixty other periodicals. This is Pukka’s first book. Their website is http://www.kerasote.com.

Publisher’s website: www.hmhbooks.com


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter’: The Dark Side of a Child Actress’s Tiger Mother

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter': The Dark Side of a Child Actress's Tiger Mother

I recalled my love-hate relationship with memoirs as I sat down to review Melissa Francis’s “Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir” (Weinstein Books, 304 pages, glossy photo insert, $26.00).

Melissa Francis, born in 1972, and already an experienced child actress, was chosen at the age of eight to play Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on the iconic “Little House on the Prairie” TV show. Her character and the one played by Jason Bateman were adopted by Michael Landon’s character. The two years she was on the show was the happiest time she had with her micromanaging stage mother, she writes. Much of the rest of the time during her commercials and acting career was pure hell, as Melissa describes the abuse she and her older sister Tiffany endured from their mom.

In my review of Kambri Crews’ “Burn Down the Ground” (link:
http://www.huntingtonnews.net/24553) I wrote:

 

“For a book reviewer who has been vocal about his distaste for memoirs, I’m also aware that a powerful mysterious force draws me to this literary form. I searched the websites where my reviews appear and I discovered that I’ve read and reviewed many memoirs. I missed Jeannette Walls’ bestselling 2005 memoir, “The Glass Castle,” partially set in southern West Virginia. Perhaps my dislike of the literary form was in reaction to the faked memoirs of James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces” published in 2003) and Margaret B. Jones — really Margaret Seltzer, a middle-class white woman from the San Fernando Valley pretending to be a mixed-race L.A. ghetto dweller in “Love and Consequences” (2008). For a list of the top 10 fake memoirs — including these two — click: http://listverse.com/2010/03/06/top-10-infamous-fake-memoirs/. The site includes at least two fake Holocaust memoirs and gives a capsule account of each book. The Wikipedia entry on faked memoirs —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_memoirs — uses the phrase “misery lit” to describe this literary genre.

Melissa Francis

Melissa Francis

“In a telephone conversation from her cabin in New York state’s Catskill Mountains Kambri Crews told me that Walls’ memoir was one of the inspirations for her book. Kambri Crews and Jeannette Walls both managed to find their new lives and careers in New York City.”

Coincidentally enough — or maybe it’s not a coincidence — native Californian Melissa Francis — often credited as “Missy” — also found salvation in New York City, where she now lives and practices her second career as a television journalist, hosting two daily business shows on the Fox Business Network. She lives in NYC with her husband Wray T Thorn and their two young boys.

From the start, Melissa Francis’s story grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go until I was finished reading it. In that respect it was a lot like Melissa’s mother and her violent mood swings. Melissa and her older sister Tiffany were each separately ordered out of their mom’s car and left by the side of the street in the San Fernando Valley as punishment for real or imagined sins. They were later retrieved, but the shame must have been extreme to two children who wondered what they did wrong.

 

The publisher’s description of Mrs. Francis describes her as “neurotic”. I’d go for “psychotic” in a San Fernando Valley minute. Melissa’s description of how their mom took their neighbor’s dog Coco from their Porter Ranch neighborhood and dropped her off at a pound in Simi Valley was particularly appalling to the reviewer who was a resident of the west San Fernando Valley from 1977 to 1992: Simi Valley is a long way from Porter Ranch and Coco, stripped of her ID collar, was doomed, Melissa writes.

 

In her memoir — which I recommend without reservation — Melissa Francis reflects not only on her past but on the subject of parenthood and the impact of relentlessly driving a child to succeed, an approach that sent Melissa’s sister into a deadly spiral.

“What I have learned from a difficult childhood is that, no matter what has happened in the past, you can take charge of your life and be happy. Your life is your own. In fact, a tough past is actually a richness of experience to draw upon. You know what doesn’t work,” she writes.

 

That’s basically a rephrasing of Nietzsche’s famous saying: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I found a British news story that gives scientific validity to that saying:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2075908/So-Nietzsche-WAS-right-What-doesnt-kill-makes-stronger-scientists-find.html

Both Tiffany and Melissa went on to college, but their experiences with higher education were radically different. Tiffany studied at UC Berkeley and earned a law degree from San Diego State, but her addictions and inner demons doomed her. Melissa eventually left acting, earned a degree in economics from Harvard University, and went on to a successful career as a broadcast journalist.

 

Today, Melissa Francis lives in New York City with her husband and two children. She anchors two daily shows on the Fox Business Network, including “Money with Melissa Francis”, which covers the intersection of Wall Street and Main Street. Prior to her role at FOX Business, Melissa spent nine years at CNBC, where she anchored shows such as Power LunchThe Call, and On the Money, and made regular contributions to the Today show and Weekend Today.

 

Publisher’s website: www.weinsteinbooks.com

REALTYTRAC: 1.8 Million U.S. Properties Had Foreclosure Filings in 2012, Down 3% from 2011

  • By David M. Kinchen 
REALTYTRAC: 1.8 Million U.S. Properties Had Foreclosure Filings in 2012,  Down 3% from 2011

A total of 2,304,941 foreclosure filings were reported on 1,836,634 U.S. properties in 2012, according to a report issued Thursday, January 17, 2013 by RealtyTrac (www.realtytrac.com), Irvine, CA, the leading online marketplace for foreclosure properties. Realtytrac’s Year-End 2012 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report shows the 2012 foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were down 3 percent from 2011, and down 36 percent from the peak of 2.9 million properties with foreclosure filings in 2010.

 

The report also shows that 1.39 percent of U.S. housing units — one in every 72 — had at least one foreclosure filing during the year, down from 1.45 percent of housing units in 2011 and down from 2.23 percent of housing units in 2010.

Other high-level findings from the report:

> Foreclosure activity in 2012 increased from 2011 in 25 states — 20 of which primarily use the longer judicial foreclosure process — including New Jersey (55 percent increase), Florida (53 percent increase), Connecticut (48 percent increase), Indiana (46 percent increase), Illinois (33 percent increase) and New York (31 percent increase).

> Foreclosure activity in 2012 decreased from 2011 in 25 states — 19 of which primarily use the more streamlined non-judicial foreclosure process — including Nevada (57 percent decrease), Utah (40 percent decrease), Oregon (40 percent decrease), Arizona (33 percent decrease), California (25 percent decrease) and Michigan (23 percent decrease).

> Florida posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate in 2012, with 3.11 percent of housing units (one in 32) receiving a foreclosure filing during the year. Other states with top 5 foreclosure rates were Nevada (2.70 percent), Arizona (2.69 percent), Georgia (2.58 percent), and Illinois (2.58 percent).

> December foreclosure activity dropped 10 percent from the previous month to the lowest level since April 2007, a 68-month low, and fourth quarter foreclosure activity was at the lowest quarterly level since the third quarter of 2007 despite a 9 percent quarterly increase in bank repossessions.

> The average time to complete a foreclosure nationwide in the fourth quarter increased 8 percent from the previous quarter to a record-high 414 days.

Lower foreclosure inventory gave sellers the upper hand and helped median sales prices in the first 10 months of 2012 to increase from the same time period in 2011 in 25 states. Median sales prices nationwide during the first 10 months of 2012 on average were 99 percent of median list prices.

In January 2013, 10.9 million homeowners nationwide — representing 26 percent of all outstanding homes with a mortgage — were seriously underwater, meaning they owed at least 25 percent more on their home than what it was worth. That was down from 12.5 million homeowners representing 28 percent of all homes with a mortgage a year earlier in January 2012.

“2012 was the year of the judicial foreclosure, with foreclosure activity increasing from 2011 in 20 of the 26 states that primarily use the judicial process, and a judicial state — Florida — posting the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the first time since the housing crisis began,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Meanwhile foreclosure activity continued to decline in 19 of the 24 states that use the more streamlined non-judicial foreclosure process, but there could be a backlog of delayed foreclosures building up in some of those states as well as the result of recent state legislation and court rulings that raise the bar for lenders to foreclose.”

“That could mean that although we are comfortably past the peak of the foreclosure problem nationally, 2013 is likely to be book-ended by two discrete jumps in foreclosure activity,” Blomquist added. “We expect to see continued increases in judicial foreclosure states near the beginning of the year as lenders finish catching up with the backlogs in those states, and another set of increases in some non-judicial states near the end of the year as lenders adjust to the new laws and process some deferred foreclosures in those states.”

December activity hits 68-month low, bank repossessions increase in fourth quarter
Foreclosure filings were reported on 162,511 U.S. properties in December, a 10 percent decrease from the previous month and down 21 percent from December 2011. December’s total was the lowest monthly total since April 2007 — a 68-month low. All three types of foreclosure filings — default notices (NOD, LIS), scheduled foreclosure auctions (NTS, NFS), and bank repossessions (REO) decreased both on a monthly and annual basis in December.

Foreclosure filings were reported on 503,462 U.S. properties during the fourth quarter, a 5 percent decrease from the previous quarter — despite a 9 percent quarter-over-quarter increase in bank repossessions — and a 14 percent decrease from the fourth quarter of 2011. The fourth quarter total was the lowest quarterly total since the third quarter of 2007, when 448,145 U.S. properties received foreclosure filings.

Florida, Nevada, Arizona post top state foreclosure rates

More than 3 percent of Florida housing units (3.11 percent, or one in 32) had at least one foreclosure filing in 2012, giving it the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the year. A total of 279,230 Florida properties had a foreclosure filing during the year, a 53 percent increase from 2011 but still 42 percent below the more than 485,000 Florida properties with foreclosure filings in 2010.

After five consecutive years with the highest state foreclosure rate, Nevada dropped to No. 2 on the list in 2012 thanks to a 57 percent drop in foreclosure activity from 2011. A total of 31,658 Nevada properties had a foreclosure filing during the year, 2.70 percent of all housing units in the state (one in every 37).

Arizona foreclosure activity in 2012 decreased 33 percent from 2011 and was down 51 percent from 2010, lowering the state’s foreclosure rate to the third highest in the nation following three consecutive years with the second highest rate. A total of 76,487 Arizona properties had foreclosure filings during the year, 2.69 percent of all housing units in the state (one in 37).

Georgia posted the nation’s fourth highest state foreclosure rate, with 2.58 percent of housing units (one in 39) receiving at least one foreclosure filing in 2012, and Illinois posted the nation’s fifth highest state foreclosure rate, also with 2.58 percent of housing units (one in 39) receiving at least one foreclosure filing during the year.

Other states with foreclosure rates among the nation’s 10 highest were California (2.33 percent), Ohio (1.75 percent), Michigan (1.69 percent), South Carolina (1.66 percent), and Colorado (1.64 percent).

Foreclosure inventory rises from low point in May, still 31 percent below peak

As of the end of the year, more than 1.5 million homes were in some stage of foreclosure or bank-owned, up 9 percent from the end of 2011, but still 31 percent below the peak of 2.2 million at the end of 2010. Foreclosure inventory had dropped to a 57-month low of 1.3 million in May 2012, but has since risen off that 57-month low.

Florida accounted for the biggest share of foreclosure inventory of any state with 305,766 properties in some stage of foreclosure or bank owned (20 percent of the national total), followed by California with 212,172 (14 percent), Illinois with 135,858 (9 percent), Ohio with 76,015 (5 percent), and New York with 69,044 (5 percent).

Lenders with the most inventory of bank-owned (REO) properties were the government-backed entities of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with a combined 26 percent of all REO inventory, followed by Bank of America with 8 percent, Wells Fargo with 6 percent, US BankCorp with 4 percent and Chase with 4 percent.

Of the properties in some stage of foreclosure or bank owned at the end of 2012, an estimated 37 percent had a market value between $100,000 and $200,000, while an estimated 27 percent had a market value between $50,000 and $100,000, and an estimated 15 percent had a market value between $200,000 and $300,000.

Median home prices up in 25 states, 1.6 million fewer homeowners underwater

Lower foreclosure inventory during the year may have helped home prices to hit bottom and start rising in many markets during the year. Median home prices during the first 10 months of 2012 rose compared to the same time period in 2011 in 25 states and in 16 of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas.

Nationwide the average monthly median home price during the first 10 months of 2012 was $164,712 — nearly identical to the average monthly median home price of $164,960 during the same time period in 2011. The average monthly list price during the first 12 months of 2012 was $166,110, showing that sellers on average were getting 99 percent of their asking price during the year.

“The influx of foreclosure activity in 2012 in many local markets should translate into more foreclosure inventory available for sale in 2013 in those markets,” Blomquist noted. “That is good news for buyers and investors, but could result in some short-term weakness in home prices as the often-discounted foreclosure sales weigh down overall home values.”

Rising home prices helped boost home values in 2012, thereby lifting many homeowners across the country out of negative equity compared to a year ago. About 10.9 million homeowners nationwide — representing 26 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage — owed at least 25 percent more on their combined mortgages than what their homes were worth as of January 2013, down from 12.5 million seriously underwater homeowners representing 28 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage in January 2012.

Average days to foreclose nationwide jumps to 414

U.S. properties foreclosed in the fourth quarter took an average of 414 days to complete the foreclosure process, up from 382 days in the third quarter and up from 348 days in the fourth quarter of 2011. It was the longest time to complete the foreclosure process since RealtyTrac began tracking the metric in the first quarter of 2007.

New York had the longest average time to foreclose, at 1,089 — up from 1,072 days in the third quarter and up from 1,019 days in the fourth quarter of 2011 — followed by New Jersey at 987 days — up from 931 days in the third quarter and up from 964 days in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The average time to foreclose in Florida decreased for the second straight quarter but was still the third highest in the country at 853 days, followed by Hawaii at 781 days and Illinois at 697 days.

The average time to foreclose in Texas increased 17 percent from the previous quarter and was up 26 percent from a year ago, but the state still documented the shortest average time to complete a foreclosure, at 113 days.

Other states with the shortest foreclosure timelines in the fourth quarter were Delaware (145 days), Virginia (146 days), Alabama (163 days), Maine (168 days) and Georgia (170 days).

Top metro foreclosure rates


Despite a 25 percent decrease in foreclosure activity from 2011, Stockton, Calif., posted the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in 2012 among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 200,000 or more: 3.98 percent of housing units (one in 25) with a foreclosure filing during the year.

Six other California cities ranked in the top 20 highest metro foreclosure rates for the year, including Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario at No. 2 (3.86 percent of housing units with a foreclosure filing), Modesto at No. 3 (3.82 percent), and Vallejo-Fairfield at No. 4 (3.73 percent). All seven California metro areas in the top 20 posted decreasing foreclosure activity from 2011.

Florida cities accounted for eight of the top 20 highest metro foreclosure rates in 2012, led by Miami at No. 5 (3.71 percent of housing units with a foreclosure filing), Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville at No. 6 (3.60 percent), and Orlando at No. 8 (3.46 percent). Seven out of the eight Florida metro areas in the top 20 documented an increase in foreclosure activity for the year.

Other metro areas with foreclosure rates in the top 20 were Atlanta at No. 7 (3.51 percent of housing units with a foreclosure filing), Chicago at No. 9 (3.31 percent), Rockford, Ill., at No. 10 (3.28 percent), Las Vegas at No. 16 (3.10 percent), and Phoenix at No. 17 (3.09 percent).

COMMERCE DEPT.: Housing Starts Up 12.1% in December

  • By David M. Kinchen 
COMMERCE DEPT.: Housing Starts Up 12.1% in December

Reflecting the highest level of new home production since June 2008, solid gains in both single-family and multifamily housing production resulted in nationwide housing starts rising 12.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000 units in December, according to data released Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 by the U.S. Commerce Department.

“Builders have become increasingly optimistic about conditions in local housing markets in recent months and this report underscores that the housing recovery is well on its way,” said Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla. “With inventories of new homes at razor thin levels, builders are moving prudently to break ground on new construction ahead of the spring buying season to meet increasing demand.”

“Overall, this report represents a solid ending to 2012 and a promising start to 2013,” said NAHB senior economist Robert Denk. “Multifamily production is almost back to normal levels and while single-family starts still have a way to go, they are gaining momentum. This trend could be even stronger if not for persistently tight credit conditions for home buyers, flawed appraisal values and uncertainties regarding economic policy debates in Washington.”

Single-family housing starts rose 8.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 616,000 units in December, while multifamily production jumped 23.1 percent, to 338,000 units.

Combined single-family and multifamily starts activity was up across all regions in December. The Northeast posted a gain of 21.4 percent, the Midwest was up 24.7 percent, the South posted a 3.8 percent increase and the West was up 18.7 percent. 

Housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 686,000. This is 1.6 percent above the revised November estimate of 675,000 and is 13.2 percent above the December 2011 rate of 606,000.

Single-family housing completions in December were at a rate of 535,000; this is 3.7 percent above the revised November rate of 516,000. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 144,000.

An estimated 651,400 housing units were completed in 2012. This is 11.4 percent above the 2011 figure of 584,900.

 

Permit issuance, which can be a harbinger of future building activity, held virtually steady at a 903,000-unit rate in December. Single-family permits rose for a fourth consecutive month, by 1.8 percent to 578,000 units while multifamily permits declined 2.1 percent to 325,000 units.

Regionally, permits rose 19 percent in the Northeast and 6.6 percent in the West while the South and Midwest posted respective declines of 3.4 percent and 5.7 percent.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Cover of Snow’: Long Hidden Secrets Revealed in Suicide of Brendan Hamilton

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Cover of Snow': Long Hidden Secrets Revealed in Suicide of Brendan Hamilton

How much do we really know about our spouses? In Nora Hamilton’s case in Jenny Milchman’s debut thriller “Cover of Snow” (Ballantine Books, 336 pages,
$26.00) the answer is “not much.”

Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora reaches instinctively for the warm body of her policeman husband Brendan, only to discover that he’s not in bed. Moving from room to room, she discovers her husband dangling from a rope, an apparent suicide.

Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown of Wedeskyull suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, New York City transplant Nora must now start facing them. She quickly discovers that she knows very little about Brendan Hamilton after eight years in Wedeskyull, or about his mother with her thinly disguised antipathy toward her home restorer daughter-in-law; and just about everybody in the town. 

 

Brendan’s partner Club Mitchell becomes Nora’s only reliable source of information about the town’s secrets. She also finds a friend in reporter Ned Kramer, whose house she’s is planning on renovating. Nora discovered Wedeskyull, with its wealth of historic houses in need of restoration — houses the object of desire for city folks seeking a country home close to the big city.

 

 
Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman

 

I’ve repeatedly issued pleas for authors and publishers to include a cast of characters with their thrillers and mysteries, and no book I’ve read in recent months cries out for such a front-of-the-book list than “Cover of Snow.” A character list also makes it easier for reviewers, but that’s not my main concern. Readers come first.

 

“Cover of Snow” is an impressive debut novel about a woman who’s endangering her life by asking questions no one in the sprawling “big little town” of Wedeskyull wants answered. Beneath the snow covering the town, there’s a powerful conspiracy of secrets and lies.

 

About the Author

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey. Her short story ‘The Closet’ was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 2012. Another short story, ‘The Very Old Man’, has been an Amazon bestseller, and the short work ‘Black Sun on Tupper Lake’ appears in the anthology ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. She’s the Chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries by over 350 bookstores in 2011. Jenny hosts the Made It Moments forum on her blog, which has featured more than 200 international bestsellers, Edgar winners, and independent authors. Jenny co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, which attracts guests coast-to-coast and has received national media attention. She teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People. Her website: www.jennymilchman.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Love Saves the Day’: Prudence the Feline Helps Her All Too Often Slow Learning Humans Understand What Really Matters About Love and Relationships

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Love Saves the Day': Prudence the Feline Helps Her All Too Often Slow Learning Humans Understand What Really Matters About Love and Relationships

Sarah’s music was my beautiful thing, and nobody was going to chase me away from it or try to take it from me. I couldn’t understand the words she was singing, but there were two words her song kept saying: Dear Prudence. She sang Dear Prudence right to me like it was my name. And it turns outPrudence was my name. I just didn’t know it yet. — Prudence, recalling her first meeting with her human roommate, Sarah

 * * *

 When I came upon Gwen Cooper’s “Love Saves the Day” (Bantam Books, a Random House Imprint, 336 pages, $26.00) featuring Prudence, a brown tabby who finally has found the human she can love, I had a flash of recognition. Prudence, a discriminating, often cranky brown tabby reminded me of our shelter cat Greta, who adopted me and has been our constant companion for almost three years now. Cats have always been part of our lives and Greta, a green-eyed, brown tabby with white patches and feet, is the latest feline who keeps us grounded. (She’d like ME to be literally grounded, because if I’m gone for more than a few hours, Liz tells me how much she misses me!)

 

The title evokes the music scene of New York City’s Lower East Side — through an East Village vintage clothing shop named Love Saves the Day, featured in the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan”, where Madonna trades her pyramid jacket for a pair of rhinestone boots. It’s also code for the drug LSD and it was the original name of a 1970 music party by David Mancuso that created an important element of the disco, dance and music scene for the East Village and Lower East Side in the gritty 1970s and ’80s. (for more on Mancuso, born in 1944, click: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mancuso).

 

Sarah, the single mother of Laura, is definitely part of that scene, one of a very few women DJs that the area’s club were willing to hire. Sarah and her best friend Anise are as unconventional and bohemian as Sarah’s corporate lawyer daughter Laura is conventional.
“Humans best understand the truth of things if they come at it indirectly. Like how sometimes the best way to catch a mouse that’s right in front of you is to back up before you pounce.”

Gwen Cooper

Gwen Cooper

So notes Prudence, who met and adopted Sarah when five-week-old Prudence, separated from her littermates, meets the woman she comes to know as Sarah in a construction site on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. From the start, using feline wisdom that will forever be a mystery to humans, she knows she’s found the human she was meant to adopt. For three years their lives are filled with laughter, tuna, catnaps, music, and the unchanging routines Prudence craves. Then one day Sarah doesn’t come home. From Prudence’s perch on the windowsill she sees Laura, the daughter who hardly ever comes to visit Sarah, arrive with her new husband. They’re carrying boxes. Before they even get to the front door, Prudence realizes that her life has changed forever.

Suddenly Prudence finds herself living in a strange apartment with humans she barely knows. It could take years to train them in the feline courtesies and customs (for example, a cat should always be fed before the humans, and at the same exact time every day) that Sarah understood so well. Prudence clings to the hope that Sarah will come back for her while Laura, a rising young corporate attorney, tries to push away memories of her mother and the tumultuous childhood spent in her mother’s dusty downtown record store. Despite Laura’s efforts to repress them, secret joys, past hurts, and life-changing moments that make every mother-daughter relationship special will come to the surface. With Prudence’s help — and the unexpected understanding of Laura’s husband, Josh — Sarah’s daughter will learn that the past, like a mother’s love, never dies. She comes to recognize the meaning of William Faulkner’s famous saying (from “Requiem for a Nun”): “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
“Love Saves the Day” is a story of hope, healing, and how the love of an animal can make all of us better humans. There’s a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that cats and dogs and other pets make us better humans (and considering the sad state of humanity, that’s a good thing!). It’s the story of a mother and daughter divided by the turmoil of bohemian New York, and the opinionated, irrepressible feline who will become the bridge between them. It’s a novel for anyone who’s ever lost a loved one, wondered what their cat was really thinking, or fallen asleep with a purring feline nestled in their arms. Prudence, a cat like no other, is sure to steal your heart.

About the Author

Gwen Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir “Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat” and the novel “Diary of a South Beach Party Girl.” She is active with numerous animal welfare organizations and donates 10% of her royalties from “Homer’s Odyssey” to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled pets. “Love Saves the Day” is her third book. Gwen lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her three perfect cats — Homer, Clayton, and Fanny — who aren’t impressed with any of it. Her website: www.gwencooper.com.

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Gangster Squad’ Captures Wild, Wild West Elements of Los Angeles in the Late 1940s

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
MOVIE REVIEW: 'Gangster Squad' Captures Wild, Wild West Elements of Los Angeles in the Late 1940s

Since I had reviewed “Gangster Squad”, the book that inspired the new neo-noir flick “Gangster Squad,” I was duty bound to see the Ruben Fleischer helmed flick on which it was based. I did so at the Cinemark in Victoria, TX on Friday, Jan. 11. For my review of Paul Lieberman’s “Gangster Squad” click :http://www.huntingtonnews.net/41035/

 

 

I’ve looked at some of the reviews — mixed but mostly negative — and I disagree with the negativity.

 

Fleischer — aided by a supremely talented cast including Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Jon Polito, Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, Nick Nolte as Chief William Parker and many others has crafted a solid. workmanlike look at the wild city of the West that Los Angeles was in the late ’40s and early ’50s. It’s as good as “L.A. Confidential,” and not as good as “True Confessions,” a 1981 movie based on the 1947 Black Dahlia/Elizabeth Short murder case, helmed by Uli Grosbard and starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. With a screenplay by John Gregory Dunne and his wife, novelist Joan Didion, “True Confessions” is a delight to watch. Get a copy from Netflix and see what I mean; it’s on a par with the best of the “Godfather” films.

Right from the start in “Gangster Squad” I noticed an error that I’ve seen in other movies set in the 1940s and early ’50s: Red and white stop signs. As anyone with a few miles on them knows red and white stop signs weren’t introduced until 1954 and after; stop signs of the period were yellow with black lettering. There’s no such problem with the costumes, designed by Mary Zophres who most recently did the costumes for the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” The garb of the period was flamboyant and Zophres does an excellent job capturing the essence of post-WWII optimism.

 

“Gangster Squad” (IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1321870/) is a shoot-em-up flick with ample use of Thompson submachine guns, commonly known as “Tommy Guns”. These weapons fire .45 caliber bullets on semi-auto or full-auto mode. With a screenplay by Will Beall (I noticed Paul Lieberman was listed as a producer), “Gangster Squad” is worth seeing at least once.